Salt Lake County auditor threatens legal action if budget proposal by Corroon takes effect

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 1 2011 5:45 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon presented his 2012 budget proposal to the County Council Tuesday, suggesting a funding shift the sheriff likes and a budgeting shift that has County Auditor Gregory P. Hawkins threatening to sue.

The mayor's proposal does not include any tax increases, though the mayor's office expects both property and sales tax revenues to edge up over the next few years. Even with those increases, the spending plan projects it will take until 2015 for revenues to climb to pre-recession levels of 2007.

Corroon issued a warning that county services would decline significantly if new revenue is not provided next year. "There has been no general fund property tax increase for more than a decade," he said. "We have scraped and cut and consolidated. The spending plan you see today is the result."

The moment Corroon said in a short speech before the County Council that he respects the county auditor but wants to move all budgeting functions into the mayor's office, Hawkins and members of his staff stood and walked out.

Corroon's proposed change would move 24 full-time budget and accounting personnel from the auditor's office into departments directly under the control of the mayor's office, making the mayor the county's primary budget officer. Currently there is an overlap in budgeting functions, with the auditor's office presenting its own tentative budget.

The change would impact Corroon little, he has said, since he is not seeking re-election and will leave office in 14 months. Corroon is promoting the change based on recommendations from a consultant's report by the Government Finance Officers Association.

Hawkins responded with a written statement. "Moving the auditor's staff to the mayor may prove to be difficult and nearly impossible. The auditor's accounting duties are statutory, and the auditor will sue if he is prevented from performing the duties he was elected to perform."

The County Council heard an initial presentation on the consultant's report one month ago but has not yet discussed the proposal.

The proposed shift in the sheriff's department would take property taxes collected by the county and budgeted to the sheriff for the Unified Police Department and move that tax revenue directly to the Salt Lake Valley Law Enforcement Services Area Board, which oversees the UPD. Also gone would be an unpopular per-household police fee in the unincorporated county of about $70 per year.

Sheriff Jim Winder said the shift is good for his department because it would eliminate a political layer and make him and the board that controls UPD directly responsible for managing revenues.

In his overall budget proposal, Corroon's staff cut $5 million from the 2011 budget to make up for mandated or requested increases the county will encounter next year, like the $2.7 million it will cost the county to conduct the general election and more than $1 million in state retirement rate increases.

The net increase in total expenditures for 2012 amounts to .3 percent in Corroon's proposal. Also included in the proposed budget is $61 million in state money for transportation projects, $48 million in federal money for the administration of federal healthcare benefits, and about $36 million in new projects.

Proposed are the construction of a new public health building, a new county vehicle maintenance facility and a public/private expansion with Ballet West at the Capitol Theatre.

Also planned is a new Millcreek Community Center and a Draper Senior Center. "We planned for these new facilities. Just like we planned for a major downturn in revenues the past three years, we planned for expanded offerings in under-served areas of our county that need our services."

The County Council took no action on the Corroon's presentation. The county next will schedule a series of budget workshops that will continue into December, when a final budget will be presented in a public hearing.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com, Twitter: SteveFidel

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